Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July 2014, 17:47 GMT

Freedom in the World 2011 - Sweden

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 12 August 2011
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2011 - Sweden, 12 August 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e4518e428.html [accessed 1 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Capital: Stockholm
Population: 9,400,000

Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 1 *
Status: Free

Overview

Fredrik Reinfeldt's center-right governing coalition retained power in the September 2010 parliamentary elections, but failed to capture a parliamentary majority. The controversial right-wing party Swedish Democrats entered Parliament for the first time with 20 seats.

After centuries of wars and monarchical unions with its neighbors, Sweden emerged as a liberal constitutional monarchy in the 19th century. Norway ended its union with the country in 1905, leaving Sweden with its current borders. Its tradition of neutrality, beginning with World War I, was altered somewhat by its admission to the European Union (EU) in 1995 and was further eroded by a more pragmatic approach to security presented in 2002. However, Sweden has continued to avoid military alliances, including NATO.

Voters rejected adoption of the euro in a 2003 referendum, despite support from government and business leaders. The rejection was attributed to skepticism about the EU and fears regarding the possible deterioration of welfare benefits and damage to the economy. Just days before the referendum, Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was killed in a knife attack in Stockholm. Her killer, a Swedish national of Serbian descent who had no clear political agenda, was sentenced to life in prison.

In the 2006 parliamentary elections, a four-party, center-right alliance headed by Fredrik Reinfeldt of the Moderate Party defeated the Social Democratic Party (SAP), which had been in power for 12 years.

Parliament passed the Signals Intelligence Act in 2008, giving Sweden's National Defense Radio Establishment the authority to wiretap communication without a court order. Following widespread public protest, the law was changed to allow wiretapping only in cases where external military threats were suspected. While the law went into effect in January 2009, continued protest led Parliament to pass an amended version of the bill in October. Among other changes, the weakened legislation specifies that only the government and military can request surveillance and that those who have been monitored must be notified.

In the September 2010 parliamentary elections, Reinfeldt won a second term as prime minister, though his coalition failed to win an outright majority and would instead rule as a minority government. The four parties in his coalition captured a total of 173 seats: the Moderate Party won 107 seats; the Center Party, 23 seats; the Liberal Party (FP), 24 seats; and the Christian Democrats (KD), 19. The SAP took 112 seats, while the Green Party (MP) captured 25 seats and the Left Party (VP) won 19. The controversial right-wing Swedish Democrats (SD) entered Parliament for the first time with 20 seats, though the other seven parties represented in Parliament vowed not to rely on the SD for significant votes, which left the party politically isolated. While the SD faced criticism during the elections for failing to sufficiently distance itself from the openly anti-immigration right, the party has transformed itself over the last decade from a marginal political movement to a professional party with a country-wide organizational structure.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Sweden is an electoral democracy. The unicameral Parliament, the Riksdag, has 349 members elected every four years by proportional representation. A party must receive at least 4 percent of the vote nationwide or 12 percent in 1 of the 29 electoral districts to win representation. The prime minister is appointed by the speaker of the Riksdag and confirmed by the body as a whole. King Carl XVI Gustaf, crowned in 1973, is the ceremonial head of state.

Eight political parties are currently represented in the Riksdag. The largest is the SAP, also known as the Workers' Party, which ruled for most of the last century with the aid of the VP and, in the later decades, the MP.

The country's principal religious, ethnic, and immigrant groups are represented in Parliament. Since 1993, the indigenous Sami community has elected its own parliament, which has significant powers over community education and culture and serves as an advisory body to the government.

Corruption rates are low in Sweden, which was ranked 4 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed by law, and the country has one of the most robust freedom of information statutes in the world. However, hate-speech laws prohibit threats or expressions of contempt based on race, color, national or ethnic origin, religious belief, or sexual orientation. In August 2010, the commercial television station TV4 was heavily criticized for refusing to air a campaign video for the Swedish Democrats, citing the hate-speech laws. The video featured an elderly lady with a walker being outrun by a group of burqa-clad women in a race to a pile of tax money. An amended version – in which controversial images were removed, but the soundtrack remained the same – aired later that same month.

Sweden's media are independent. Most newspapers and periodicals are privately owned, and the government subsidizes daily newspapers regardless of their political affiliation. Public broadcasters air weekly radio and television programs in several immigrant languages. The ethnic press is entitled to the same subsidies as the Swedish-language press. Under the Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive law, which came into effect in April 2009, internet service providers must reveal information about users found to be engaged in illegal file sharing. However, the first case was referred to the European Court of Justice to determine whether the law is in accordance with wider European law on privacy and data protection.

Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed. Although the population is 87 percent Lutheran, all churches, as well as synagogues and mosques, receive some state financial support. While reported hate crimes against the Jewish community declined by 13 percent in 2010, those targeting Muslims increased by the same percentage during the year. Academic freedom is ensured for all.

Freedoms of assembly and association are respected in law and in practice. In 2010, major peaceful protests were staged in Stockholm in September and October against the SD and racism. The rights to strike and organize in labor unions are guaranteed. Trade union federations, which represent about 80 percent of the workforce, are strong and well organized. The Swedish labor code was amended in April 2010 after the European Court of Justice ruled that employees posted to the Swedish branches of foreign companies are subject to their home country's collective agreements, and not those of Swedish unions. The new arrangement allegedly undermines the right to strike, according to Swedish unions.

The judiciary is independent. Swedish courts are allowed to try suspects for genocide committed abroad. The government maintains effective control of the police and armed forces. In 2007, Sweden changed its immigration policy, disallowing family reunification for "quota refugees." Family members must now apply separately for visas. A new Equality Ombudsman position was created in 2008 to oversee efforts to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation, and a permanent national hate crime police unit was established in April 2009. Demonstrations and counterdemonstrations were sparked in November 2009 after a youth hostel in Vellinge was turned into temporary housing for children seeking asylum. In 2010, difficulties continued as the government tried to persuade municipalities to house young refugees.

Gay couples were legally allowed to adopt for the first time in 2003. The country granted lesbian couples the same rights to artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization as heterosexual couples in 2005.

Sweden is a global leader in gender equality. Approximately 45 percent of Riksdag members are women. Of the 24 government ministers, 11 are women. Although 80 percent of women work outside of the home, they still earn only 70 percent of men's wages in the public sector and 76 percent in the private sector. The country is a destination and transit point for women and children trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The 2004 Aliens Act helped to provide more assistance to trafficking victims, and a special ambassador has been appointed to aid in combating human trafficking. Under Sweden's Sex Purchase Act, the purchase of sexual services is illegal, with punishments of up to six months in prison.

* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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